Cold Oak was properly named.
The surrounding woods were deep and thick, anchored with solid oaks that had stood for years with underbrush sprouting beneath them. There were more of them once, but they were cleared away for the town, and many of them were used to construct the simple buildings that lined the empty streets.
More than the oaks, the air was always cold. A deep and pervasive cold, and the air hung heavy with wetness. The air seemed to be the oxygen of the dead, harsh and lifeless, as though it could kill from the inside out.
It was empty most of the time; the years came and went in vacancy. There was no one there to mark the passage of years, and the weathered wood on the buildings was the only testament to the rise and fall of time.
Those who came never stayed. Most of them left nothing behind at all, no evidence that they’d been there.
Some, however. Some left more than that. Some left everything they were. Left behind their sanity, their humanity, their very lives.
This night was dark. It was a cloying blackness, encapsulated with a suffocating shroud of clouds.
Then, a figure staggered into the stillness, ripping through the silence with a graceless lurch.
“Hello!” he called.
His voice echoed off the buildings, dissipating into the night.
He hurt. His shoulder ached and his back was on fire. Everything felt hazy around the edges, as though he was only just tethered to this place.
For a second, he thought he might pass out, the pain was that bad. His body was cold and hot all at once and his mind could barely focus.
He should remember this. He should know what he was trying to do. But he just knew he had to move--now. He had to get somewhere--now. He had to find someone--now. His survival depended on it.
He moved forward with a staggering gait. Suddenly walking was harder than he remembered. The pain in his back spiked and he went to his knees.
“Oh, God,” he muttered. It was a prayer and a curse all at once.
He didn’t have time for this. No time for this. He had to keep moving.
With a shake of his head, he went to his feet.
Dean. He needed to find Dean.
Dean was his brother. His big brother. Dean would always come for him. He always did. Where was Dean?
He moved with a new vigor, staggering forward. His arm was nearly numb now and it was getting hard to breathe.
Then he saw the light.
A light in an abandoned town--in pain and hazy, his training was still strong enough. Where there was light, there were people. Dean.
Feeling renewed, he went faster. Dean would make it better. Dean would make sense of this.
The dirt road beneath his feet was uneven, and he stumbled once as he moved. But it didn’t stop him. Nothing would stop him. Not now. Not when he was so close.
There was something he should remember. Something that was important. But he didn’t know why he was here. He didn’t know where he was supposed to be. He simply knew it wasn’t here. That was enough to make him want to panic, but he clung to the other thing he knew: Dean would make it right.
He was panting by the time he reached the building, puffs of cold air in the night. He could feel the anticipation building in him, reaching a desperate pitch.
He almost crashed against the doorway, feeling his body thump strongly against it. His hand grabbed at the handle, but it didn’t move. Frantic, he tried again, yanking on it, but to no avail.
With a muted cry he slammed himself against the door before moving around to the side. “Hello?” he called. “Hello!”
He came to a window, pausing to pound on the glass.
Then, beneath the sound of his own frantic breathing, he heard another voice. From inside.
Swallowing hard, he leaned in, peering closely. The glass was dirty and there was a veil of tattered curtains around the edges. The light was small and distant, but enough to make out the familiar form perched on a chair.
His heart leaped. “Dean!” he cried, pounding on the glass with new vigor. “Dean!”
But there was no response.
Sam’s hope flickered, threatened by a surge of panic. Dean was supposed to make things right. Dean was always there, whenever something went wrong. Dean would fix things. Dean always fixed things.
But Dean didn’t move. Dean didn’t even look at him.
Disheartened, Sam broke off with a sob, ducking his head as despair washed over him. This didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense. Dean wouldn’t do this to him. Not now. Not ever.
Looking up again, he squinted, trying to make out what his brother was doing. Then he realized that Dean was looking at something. Watching. His brother’s posture was stooped, a slow hand rubbing across his chin. Even in the dimness, it looked like he had been crying.
Confused, he peered closer and made out a figure on the bed next to Dean. It was a long figure, legs almost reaching off the end. And it was still--deathly still. The jeans looked familiar and he recognized the tan color of the jacket. He couldn’t see the face--it was blocked by Dean’s hunched form.
Then his brother shifted, leaning back in the chair, and he had a full view of the figure on the bed.
And he nearly stopped breathing altogether.
The pale features and closed eyes. The arms crossed not in repose, but in death. And the face--the face.
He knew that face.
It was his face.
Trembling, he stepped away, feeling faint. This wasn’t happening. This was not happening.
But it was. Dean leaned forward again, burying his face in his hands. His brother was crying--sobbing in earnest--and there was only one thing that could break his brother like that--
Looking down at himself, he realized with horror why he was cold. His form was translucent and he saw himself flicker.
Mouth open, he turned his gaze back to the scene before him as the reality sunk in with an inevitable weight.
He was dead.
The pounding of his heart, the gasping of his breath--it was an illusion. And the pain--phantom pain. It was why he couldn’t open the door, why Dean couldn’t hear his voice. It was why nothing made sense and why nothing ever would.
He wanted to cry, but didn’t know how. He didn’t know how to do anything.
Because Sam Winchester was dead.
Dean always watched out for Sam.
He could recount the days of his childhood, the long nights of being alone and in charge of Sam. There had been no one there to tuck Sam in except him. There had been no one to line the doorways with salt except him. Dean had taken the proper precautions and he’d told Sam the right lies to let his little brother sleep the whole night through.
Dean knew he hadn’t been perfect, and, looking back, he knew it was a burden he never should have carried. But he’d never once regretted it. Because as tedious as watching after his baby brother could be, as inconvenient and cumbersome and annoying and frustrating as it could be--it was the only good thing in his life. The only thing that really made him feel complete. Sam’s big brother. There was meaning to that that eclipsed everything else.
Looking at his brother now, that history made it hurt even more. Because Sam was his responsibility. He was a big brother by birth but Sam’s protector by choice and he had never failed. Not once.
Sam was dead.
It was a paralyzing fact, a hard truth, and Dean still wasn’t sure he could believe it. Yes, he’d held Sam as his brother breathed his last. Yes, he’d carried his brother’s dead weight from the streets and stretched him out on the bed. Yes, he’d looked at the wound, deep and mortal. Yes, he’d checked for a pulse, checked for breathing, checked for any sign of life and found nothing.
Hell, yes, he’d even laid his brother on his back, straightened his legs and crossed his arms in a position of repose.
He could even hear his voice telling Bobby that they were too late, that Sam was gone, that Sam was gone.
None of that made it any easier to understand. Nothing would ever make him understand life without Sam.
Dean’s eyes focused on his brother’s pale features and a sob shuddered through him, but he refused to give voice to it. Instead, trembling, he shook his head, looking at his hands. How long had he been sitting here? How long had Sam been lying here?
How did they get here at all?
He gave a small, bitter laugh, and looked up again. He knew how they’d gotten here. He knew too well. He knew how he’d tracked and searched for leads on Sam. He knew how he’d gleaned all the details he could from Ash and used every resource Bobby had. He’d been drawn here to find Sam and shown up thirty seconds too late. A minute earlier, and Dean could have saved his brother’s life.
Tears filled his eyes again, and he didn’t bother wiping them away. Instead, he stood, pacing toward the wall. When he got there, he stopped, looking back at his brother’s prone figure.
He knew how Sam had gotten here--the trail of dead bodies and sulfur were clear enough signs. The disappearance of Ava Wilson was another ominous omen. The Yellow Eyed Demon had taken Sam--brought him here--but for what? To be murdered?
Why go through all the trouble? Why go to Sam’s crib when he was an infant? Why kill their mother? Why all of that when all he--it--wanted was for Sam to die a violent and painful death on the abandoned streets of Cold Oak?
Dean sighed, shaking his head. It was more than that, though. It started in the nursery when Sam was six months old. It started the night Dean carried his brother down the stairs. It started with every monster their father hunted and every lie they told Sam. It started with all of Sam’s questions and all of Dean’s well intentioned cover stories. It started with the truth one lonely Christmas and it started with the painful training that would follow that. It started with Sam’s doubts and objections. It started with Dean’s first hunt and Sam’s first scholastic award. It started with every fight between Sam and their father. It started with every time Dean tried not to take a side.
It started with Sam getting accepted to Stanford and their father telling Sam to never come back.
It started with Sam following one order and one order only.
It started with their father going missing and Sam’s apartment going up in flames. It started with a dead girlfriend and a desperate need for revenge.
It started with a showdown in a cabin that Dean would never really remember and a deal their father made that Dean would never forget.
It started with all of that and more, a million things that Dean could never control, no matter how much he wanted to pretend like he could.
It ended with a knife in Sam’s back.
There was a sound from behind, and Dean stiffened slightly. He didn’t look to see who it was. He was pretty sure he knew and positive he didn’t care. The one thing that had mattered, the one thing that had made life make sense, was dead now. Nothing would be the same.
He heard Bobby shuffle in behind, making a show of clearing his throat as he scraped across the wood floor. Dean didn’t spare him a glance.
“I brought food,” Bobby said, his voice gruff.
Dean glanced toward him, and watched him put a bucket of chicken on the table. He turned his gaze back toward his brother.
Bobby waited a moment, before continuing. “You’ve got to eat, boy.”
Dean laughed a little, incredulous and bitter. “What for?”
Bobby moved next to him. “This ain’t what your brother would have wanted.”
That was enough to bring Dean’s eyes to the older man. He raised his eyebrows. “What Sam would have wanted?” he asked. “You think Sam wanted to be dead?”
The words made Bobby recoil a little, and he pursed his lips. “You know that’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then what are you saying?” Dean asked shortly.
Swallowing, Bobby seemed to brace himself. His eyes flickered to Sam then settled on Dean again. “Sam died for this fight,” he said. “We can’t let his death be in vain.”
Dean knew that logic. He knew it like a twenty-two year vendetta that their father had carried out. He knew it like his lost childhood. He knew it like a dead brother who was never coming back.
Anger vibrated through Dean, strong and almost unrestrained. “It was all in vain,” Dean said. “All of it. No matter what we kill, no matter what we do, this will never be right. Not while Sam’s dead.”
Something wavered in Bobby’s countenance. The passion smoldered a little, and Dean could see this hurt Bobby, too. If there was any compassion to give, Dean would have granted it. But there was nothing left in him except the painful absence of Sam’s life.
“I know you’re hurting,” Bobby said. “Hell, I’m hurting. You think I don’t miss him? You think I’m handling this well?” He gestured to Sam. “That boy was murdered, and we don’t really know why yet, but I can tell you, it’s nothing good. And we were too late to stop it. We have to deal with that. Sam would want us to deal with that.”
Dean turned his eyes back to Sam, feeling the pain flare up again. There were many things Sam would have wanted. Things Sam would have done.
“The fight is coming to us whether we want to fight or not, and it’s big. End of the world big,” Bobby said. “We can’t just--we can’t just let the world end.”
At that, Dean snorted, shaking his head. He turned his broken gaze back to Bobby. “It already has.”
The words hit Bobby hard, and Dean watched as the resolve crumbled from Bobby’s face. He nodded a little. “Don’t you think we ought to--”
Dean looked at him pointedly, begging him not to say it. He couldn’t hear it. He didn’t want to. Not now not ever.
Bobby hesitated, but forged on. “--burn Sam’s body.”
Dean’s heart clenched in his chest and he thought he might be sick. The thought of wrapping Sam’s body, of drenching it with gasoline and taking a match to it--it was almost more than he could fathom. After all the years of pulling Sam from the fire, the idea of committing Sam to it forever--
He shuddered. “No,” he said, his voice quiet. The resolve came to him more strongly. With a vehement shake of his head, the anger surged forth. “No,” he said, louder this time. “We’re not going to touch him.”
Bobby looked a little gobsmacked, but Dean didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything except his brother. “Dean--”
It was full of compassion and hesitation, but Dean didn’t want it. He wouldn’t have it. “No,” he said, almost yelling now. “Leave us alone. This is between me and Sam now, just like it always has been. He’s my responsibility and I’ll deal with it.”
“Dean,” Bobby said, and Dean could tell he was afraid. “What are you going to do?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I lost one of you--”
Dean raised his eyes to meet Bobby’s one last time. There were no words for this. Dean was out of explanations. He was out of smart ass replies and never say die speeches. He was just out. Sam was gone, and there was no way to tell Bobby that if he lost one of them, he lost both of them.
Bobby finally nodded, and Dean could see wetness glint in his eyes. The older man dropped his gaze and sniffled loudly. “Well, if you need anything...,” he said. Looking up, he seemed reluctant. “I’ll go see if anyone in town knows anything and come back to check on you.”
It was a compromise on Bobby’s part, Dean knew that much. But ultimately, Dean didn’t care. It didn’t matter what Bobby did. It didn’t matter what Bobby found out. The only thing that mattered was Sam, and Sam was already dead.
Looking at his brother again, Dean felt the loss ripple through him again. He heard Bobby shuffle out and the door closed, but Dean didn’t move.
He couldn’t. This was where he belonged. By Sam’s side. For now and forever. He was Sam’s big brother, his protector--
The thought made him ache.
Some protector he turned out to be. Sam was cold and stiff and dead, and it all happened on Dean’s watch. All the promises he’d made, all the platitudes he’d offered--they'd been nothing but hollow wishes, vain hopes.
Because Sam was dead. He was never coming back. He’d never see his brother smile. He’d never hear his brother’s laugh. He’d never have to endure another one of Sam’s lame attempts at a prank. He’d never see the kid sulk, he’d never watch the way Sam’s brow furrowed when he concentrated. There would be no more hunts, no more downtime, no more hopes for the future. Nothing.
A lifetime of purpose and duty and promises and love and he had nothing left to show for it.
A lifetime of being the one person Sam could count on, and he’d let Sam down.
A fresh tear slipped from his eyes and he sat heavily in the chair by Sam’s side. He could remember everything. From carrying Sam down the stairs, to watching Sam grow up--every skinned knee, every meal of Spaghetti-o’s, every episode of Thundercats.
Every question. Every demand to know why.
Sam had never understood that he didn’t really want to know. That he was better off not knowing.
Dean laughed, short and bitter. “You always wanted to know why,” he said, shaking his head. He turned his eyes back to his brother. “You never understood that I was just trying to protect you. It was always my job. Dad never even had to ask me. I just...did it. It felt right. The only thing that really mattered.”
His voice trailed off and the pain flared up again, almost hitting him like a blow that constricted his lungs and dug deep into the pit of his stomach. Sam’s stony features looked surreal, nothing like the brother he remembered. Nothing like the four-year-old who had looked up to him. Nothing like the eight-year-old who refused to take because as an answer. Nothing like the teenager who was always too smart for his own good.
Nothing like Sam.
Because the graying corpse wasn’t Sam. Not anymore. Never again.
Dean swallowed hard. “All that time, I only had one job. Not to hunt, not to be the good son. But to be your big brother. Protect Sammy.” His voice broke. “And I screwed it up.”
Sam would tell him it wasn’t his fault. Sam would tell him to stop blaming himself.
But Sam was dead.
“What am I supposed to do now?” he asked, looking down, his voice ragged and heavy. Gazing up again, the stillness of his brother’s body terrified him.
Rage swelled within him. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked, louder this time, almost begging an answer in his desperation.
It surged further, driving Dean out of his seat. “What am I supposed to do?” he screamed, as if he could scream loud enough that Sam could hear him--wherever Sam was.
As the burst of anger simmered, his grief hit him with fresh pain. He curled over, crashing back to his seat. A sob rippled through him and he cried hard and long. Sam was gone. Sam was gone. His brother, his one job--all of it. Gone.
It was a paralyzing grief, overpowering and encompassing. This was not a loss he would recover from. It was not a loss he could survive.
Simply, it was not one he could accept.
What was he supposed to do?
Then, out of nowhere, he knew. He knew just like his father knew. Winchesters didn’t lose things like this. Dean would get his brother back--he would save Sam--no matter what it took.
Gravel kicked up under the Impala’s wheels, spraying wildly in the car’s wake. The car slammed into gear, engine roaring with an unusual ferocity. Headlights sliced into the night, illuminating the reckless path as the car careened into the blackness.
Dean wasn’t sure how he knew where to go. He’d always had a keen sense of direction, but it was more than that. Deep and instinctive, he knew. His heart took him there with every aching throb in Sam’s absence.
Save him or kill him. The last order his dad had given him. It echoed hollowly in Dean’s brain. Save or kill--not let die. Never let die. Save Sam. Take your brother outside as fast as you can.
This was his most basic need. His most central purpose.
Look out for Sammy.
The car squealed to a stop, and Dean’s chest felt tight. Looking out through the window, the dust was still clearing, but Dean could see the spot clear enough. Dark and lonely, the intersection of two backwater country roads.
He’d mocked others for coming here. He’d resented his father for trying the same. But he understood now. He understood completely. That sometimes there was no choice. That sometimes, no matter how wrong it was, no matter how much demons should never be trusted, there was simply no other choice worth living for.
Dean’s stomach twisted. All his years of fighting demons, of killing them, and he was going to call one out and offer it everything. Sam would never forgive him. His father would be so disappointed.
Dean didn’t care.
Swallowing hard, Dean pushed open his door. Numbly, he went to the trunk. He knew all the details--everything he needed. Finding the pieces was easier than it should have been, but they carried a range of products with them. The right herbs. A picture. An animal bone. The stuff of black magic that was too dangerous to dabble with.
But Dean wasn't dabbling. Dean was risking everything on this long shot; risking everything to make right the mistake he'd never get over. For Sam. Anything for Sam.
Heart pounding, he went to his knees in the center, digging with his hands. Dirt packed beneath his fingernails and the ground was hard and cold, but Dean made short work of it. Arranging the contents, he gave his own photo one lingering second glance before he piled the dirt back on.
Out of breath, he stood on shaking feet. The first step was done now. The line he never should have crossed, he’d leaped over. He’d betrayed everything he’d ever stood for. He’d made a hypocrite of himself. Standing alone at the center of the crossroads, it was all too clear to Dean how far he’d fallen.
Worse, how far he was still willing to fall.
“Come on!” he screamed into the night. “I’m right here, you bitch!”
She would come. She had to come. Dean would not fail at this. He could not fail at this.
Spinning, he held his hands out. “Come on!” he hollered again.
He stumbled wildly, and the beginning of panic flared in his chest. He’d done everything right. He’d done everything right.
Then, a noise.
He turned, and his breath caught in his throat when he saw her. She was different, of course, and her hair was long and dark. Her black dress was entirely inappropriate for the cool night, and Dean could see goosebumps on the girl’s skin, but the calculating smile showed no similar signs of distress.
Which of course it wouldn’t. This was no cocktail waitress. This was a demon.
As if seeing his train of thought, the girl’s mouth smiled and her eyes went black. “Well, well,” she said, shaking her head. “I almost didn’t believe it, but here you are. Dean Winchester, in the flesh.”
Her tone was conversational, but Dean didn’t have time for games. He came here for one reason and one reason only. Demons liked the sound of their own voices, and during a normal hunt, he would listen to them as a necessary evil. But not now. Not now. He didn’t have anything to gain from the back and forth and he had no underhanded motives.
He wanted Sam back. She had the power to do that. He’d give anything for that. Without doubt, hesitation, or a second guess.
She moved closer, gliding easily in the night. “I’ve had my share of surprises when it comes to these kind of calls, but I think this one definitely takes the cake,” she said. “I mean, Dean Winchester? Hunter extraordinaire? What would your family say if they saw you here?”
Dean went rigid. “Skip the small talk, sweetheart.”
She gave him a wide-eyed look, with a pouty turn of her lips. “Oh, Dean,” she said. “I had heard you had a better sense of humor. This makes me think you're here without Daddy’s permission.” Then she paused, smiling. “Oh, that’s right. Daddy’s downstairs, isn’t he? He’s been having a grand old time. Quite the party animal, that one. And I hear that little Sammy’s out of commission, too. Too bad. I would have liked to be in on that bit of action.”
Seething, it took all Dean’s self control not to take her bait. “I want to make a deal.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Now that’s a turn I wasn’t expecting.”
“Well, expect this,” Dean said. His gusto was gone. There would be no bartering as far as Dean was concerned. He wanted his cards laid out on the table and he wanted the trade, no matter what it cost him. “My life for Sam’s. Plain and simple. No tricks, no gimmicks. Just a straight up deal.”
She laughed at him. “That’s tempting, it really is, but I’m afraid it’s a no go there, kiddo.”
Dean’s chest tightened and his throat constricted. “It’s a fair deal. Hell, I don’t even need ten years. You can have me now.”
“Wow,” she said, nodding a little. “That really would be nice. I mean, a straight up soul for soul is hard to refuse.”
“So don’t refuse it,” Dean told her.
She looked pensive for a moment, then gave a nonchalant shrug. “Lovely as it may be, I’m still forced to say no.”
“Why?” Dean demanded, his voice grating so hard it cracked.
“I have my orders, just like everyone else,” she told him. Then she smiled seductively. “Surely you can appreciate that.”
“But you can have it now,” Dean offered. “I’m not even asking for ten years. I’m not asking for anything--just Sam.”
She sidled closer, looking at him longingly. “Oh, baby, you do taunt me so,” she said, running a finger down Dean’s cheek.
Dean shuddered at the touch, but refused to pull away. “So we have a deal?”
She leaned in closer, her lips almost brushing his cheek as she whispered in his ear. “I’m sorry,” she said. “No.”
Furious, Dean pulled away, grabbing at her arm in anger. “But this is what you guys do!” Dean protested.
She made no attempt to pull away, and eyed him balefully. “It does pay the bills, but there are some deals that just aren’t worth making,” she explained. “Not that we wouldn’t love your soul, baby, because, truth be told, it’s quite something. So inherently noble and pure. For all the dirty things you do in the dark, for all the blood you have on your hands, you’re special, Dean. So very, very special. I’d take you any day of the week, just for kicks.” She sighed a little. “But it’s not up to me.”
Dean was trembling so hard he could barely think. “Then who is it up to?”
Her smile was as sweet as it was feral. “We’ll just say a mutual acquaintance.”
Dean’s hand tightened around her. “Who?”
She didn’t even flinch. “I do like it when you get rough,” she said. “It’s such a turn on.”
“Damn it,” Dean cursed, shoving her hard. He stepped closer, eyeing her menacingly. “What is that you want? You name it, I’ll give it to you. No questions asked.”
Her eyes flashed darkly. “We have exactly what we want,” she said easily. “I never quite believed it myself, but they were right about your brother. Little Sammy Winchester was the one after all. Who would have thought it?”
Dean’s mind scrambled to keep up, his heart pounding hard in his chest. Demons lied and demons told the truth, but they did it for the malice of it, to make people squirm. They did it to gloat and show just how much power they had. But Dean couldn’t put two and two together to know exactly what she was talking about. “Would have thought what? What about Sam?”
Her face lit up, almost like a kid on Christmas morning. “Oh, it’s not just about Sam,” she assured him. “It’s about you and Sam and your dear old daddy. For all the years you fought against demons and for all the years we wanted you all dead, and you’re the ones who are going to free us all.”
Dean had entertained her for Sam’s sake. His patience was gone, along with his chance of bringing Sam back. All that was left was a bitter and angry shell. “What the hell are you talking about?
Her lips quirked into a sardonic grin. “Funny choice of words there, kiddo,” she said. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
Anger surged through him, and he shook her hard by the arm. “Find out what!” he said.
She looked unimpressed. Cocking her head, she gave him a dry look. “Now that’s not how you ask nicely.”
He swore, pulling his gun from his waistband. He cocked it, jamming it against her head. “Tell me what I want to know or I’ll blow your brains out.”
She shook her head. “A gun, Dean?” she asked. “Really? When you know that bullets won’t kill me?”
“No,” Dean said, his face twisting with rage and he dug the gun into her temple. “But it’ll sure make a nice mess.”
Her eyes widened slightly. “Whoa, there,” she said. “Someone needs to work on their anger management skills a bit.”
“You have to the count of three,” he said. “One, two--”
She held up her free hand. “Okay, okay,” she relented. “You’re getting yourself all worked up over things you can’t change.”
Dean raised his eyebrows. “Want to make a bet?”
Her smile spread coldly across her face. “I don’t have to bet,” she said. “You can kill me and nothing will change. True, I don’t really want to die, but it won’t get you anywhere. All the pieces are falling into place, one right after another. I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.”
“You want to see the rest of this?” Dean asked, letting the gun dig into her head. “Then tell me what you’re talking about.”
She pursed her lips. “You’ll know soon enough,” she said. “Everyone will.”
“I swear to God--”
At that, she laughed. “Baby, I’ve seen the end of this story, and I’m not sure God’s going to have much to say about this. Not when everything is going our way. From your daddy’s trip down under to Sam biting the big one in Cold Oak. I will admit, your attempt at a deal was rather unexpected and kind of sweet. It’d make a nice little story if there were any way we could make it work.”
“You still haven’t told me why you won’t bring Sam back,” Dean said, because that was the crux of the issue. It was the reason he had come here and the reason he wasn’t leaving yet.
“Sometimes death is a part of life, Dean,” she told him, her voice quiet. Then, she smiled. “And, sometimes it’s a part of something else.”
For a moment, Dean thought he might throw up. By sheer force of will, he swallowed the bile back, making himself look at her. “Part of what?” he asked, his voice taut.
She licked her lips easily, her eyes piercing into his. “Come on, Dean,” she cooed. “You know more than you’re letting yourself realize. Think about it. This all started when Sam was six months old and Azazel visited your brother and killed your mommy.”
“Your friend with the yellow eyes. He’s more powerful than you think. Your mom never stood a chance. Neither did your dad. And neither did Sam.”
He tensed, his grip nearly crushing her wrist.
She barely even flinched. “Oh, you know you’ve thought about it,” she said. “Your daddy thought about it all the time. That’s why he left you that order--to save or kill him, right?”
“Shut up,” he seethed.
“Looks like you didn’t do either,” she told him with a smirk. “But it’s not your fault, Dean. Don’t beat yourself up over it. There was a plan that was bigger than you and Sam. Even bigger than your father. You weren’t supposed to succeed.”
“Shut up,” he said again, more vehemently.
“You want to know, don’t you?” she persisted with feigned innocence. “You demanded answers, and I can’t give you a deal, but I can give you that.”
“I just want my brother, bitch.”
“And we just want him, too,” she said. “You don’t think Azazel set up all those nice, sweet kids in a psychic death match for nothing, do you?”
Dean’s mind reeled. “What?”
“He brought them all,” she continued. “Every surviving child. You knew some of them. Sam’s friend Ava--tricky one she turned out to be. Sweet little Andy--poor guy, didn’t last long. I believe you met Jake--he was the one in the fatigues running away. Turns out, he was the winner. Poor Sam came in a close second, though, and by pure voice of reason, too. Too bad this wasn’t a game of reason, or Sam would have won. He would have been one hell of a lawyer. But when it comes to the last man standing, he just didn’t have it in him.”
It washed over him with painful clarity. Ava’s disappearance. Sam’s disappearance. The remote location. The realization that there were more children than he’d first known. The fact that he’d seen Sam murdered before his eyes. “But why?” he asked. “Why set them up like that? Why pick so many if you just wanted one?”
Her smugness faded and a look of sympathy came over her. “The best things in life are never easy,” she said. She brought her hand up and caressed Dean’s face. He felt his defenses weaken and his grip on the gun went lax as he dropped his hand in defeat. “Baby, you should know that by now.”
It still didn’t make sense. He was missing something--missing something big. “But if Sam’s the one you wanted, what good is he to you dead?”
Her smile returned. “And they say Sammy’s the smart one,” she said. “Don’t worry. Sam’s right where we want him.”
He shook his head, almost recoiling at the thought of Sam in Hell. His brother was too good for that, his brother had faith--he couldn’t be there. He couldn’t.
The weight of failure settled over him with a newfound intensity. Desperation was setting in. “Just give him back to me,” he said. He had no more threats. No more replies. Just the honest request, as plain and simple as he could. “Please.”
Her shoulders fell a little. “Oh, Dean,” she said. “I know it seems cruel, but it’ll all make sense. In fact, you’ll thank me for denying you this deal. You really will. Especially since I’m giving you a front row seat to what’s coming.”
Dean was going to ask why and how and please, but like that, the air picked up and she vanished into the night.
Turning, Dean looked for her, but he was alone, the empty crossroads stretching in all directions.